Professor Michael Aviram of Rambam Hospital Haifa and the Technion American Medical School.
Professor Michael Aviram of Rambam Hospital Haifa and the Technion American Medical School.

By Anna Harwood

This Pesach, if your four glasses at the Seder table contain an Israeli red wine, you may be ensuring a clean bill of health.

Research newly released from the University of Leeds, UK, reports that resveratrol, a chemical found in red wine, may halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Initial findings were produced in an early-stage laboratory setting but they pave the way for further investigation in this area. This latest research has added yet another dimension to the healing properties of red wine, which for years have been studied in Haifa, Israel.

Professor Michael Aviram is a distinguished scientist who has been revolutionizing cardiovascular medicine in his 32 years on the Technion faculty and as director of Rambam Hospital’s Clinical Research Institute in Haifa. Professor Aviram’s chief area of research for the past 32 years has been the investigation of “bad cholesterol” (LDL) and its link to the formation of atherosclerosis (thickening and hardening of the arteries), which leads to heart attacks and strokes.

Professor Aviram discovered that in addition to excessive levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood, oxidization of cholesterol molecules by exposure to harmful entities such as smoke, pollution, and even viruses can be just as harmful. The solution: antioxidants that can block the oxidation of cholesterol and other fats.

“In the last 25 years I have studied over 100 different fruits, vegetables, beverages, and wines to find out the health benefit of these magical molecules,” he said. “Most of the antioxidants that I found were present in the skin of the fruit. The most cardio-protective foods, I discovered, were pomegranate, red wine, and olive oil.”

Professor Aviram and his team initially published their findings on the unique properties of red wine in 1995, and since then their paper has been cited over 600 times in further research. It is the skins of the grape, left in the juice during fermentation, that cause the red color of the wine and that also give the wine its powerful antioxidant qualities. A glass of red wine at mealtimes has been demonstrated to reduce the levels of oxidized bad cholesterol in the bloodstream and thus the potential for developing atherosclerosis.

Recently, it was discovered that Israeli wine had five times the amount of a potent antioxidant as similar UK wine studied. The study suggests that it may be the high levels of sunlight which aids antioxidant production in the grapes grown in Israel.

“We are incredibly lucky here in Israel,” explained Yael Gai of the Golan Heights Winery. “Our vineyards are spread across the Golan at varying altitudes and geographical conditions. We have perfected the latest technology to allow us to exploit the fantastic sunshine and variety of temperatures available to us.”

There are now more Israeli wines on the market than ever before and there has been a host of Israeli red wines winning international prizes this past year, including the 2008 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Galil Mountain Alon, which both won awards at the most recent Decanter Awards in London.

Israeli red wines come at a variety of prices to suit a range of budgets. The Mount Hermon Red is Israel’s bestselling wine, owing to its popularity amongst wine connoisseurs and novices alike. It is a very affordable medium-bodied, fruity wine, making it a great addition to the Seder table. At the other end of the budget, there are a host of limited-edition, single-vintage wines which will wow guests with their unique flavors. The 2009 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon El Rom was recently released to the U.S. market to rave reviews. It is full-bodied, aged to perfection, and with the special magic of a single-vineyard wine.

Whichever Israeli red wine you choose to serve this Pesach, drunk in moderation, it is reassuring to know that this treat may be keeping you healthy in addition to tantalizing the taste buds. v


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